"Twilight" tourists flock to tiny Forks, Wash.
by Kristi Turnquist, The Oregonian
Monday December 01, 2008, 8:44 AM
FORKS, Wash. -- Not even the most avid civic booster would mistake "Twilight" author Stephenie Meyer's description of Forks as the stuff of tourism dreams.
A typical passage from Meyer's mega-best-seller goes like this: "Thick fog was all I could see out my window in the morning, and I could feel the claustrophobia creeping up on me. You could never see the sky here; it was like a cage."
As "Twilight" fans know, Meyer is the Phoenix, Ariz., stay-at-home mother who created the pop-culture phenomenon known as the "Twilight Saga," the story of a human teenager, Bella Swan, who falls in love with Edward Cullen, a vampire teenager.
When Meyer was writing "Twilight," she researched towns known for their rainfall. This was important because Meyer's vampires -- unlike Count Dracula and his ilk -- walk around in daylight. But Meyer's vamps prefer cloudy climes, since sunlight makes their skin sparkle like diamonds, which, not surprisingly, tends to make them stand out in a crowd.
Enter Forks -- famous for its proximity to Olympic National Park and for its reputation as the rainiest spot in the contiguous U.S. Meyer had never visited Forks when she wrote "Twilight," but her fictional description was both accurate and unexpectedly alluring enough to turn this former logging community into ground zero for "Twilighters."
Although the movie version of Meyer's hugely popular book was largely filmed in -- ssssh -- Oregon, the "Twilight" faithful are still making pilgrimages to the one-stoplight town of Forks. It's also a town without a movie theater, which meant that the weekend "Twilight" opened in theaters -- earning a jaw-dropping $69.6 million -- fans had to go to Port Angeles, about an hour and 15 minutes away.
"It's not right that they shot it in Oregon," said Heidi Marshall, manager of the espresso stand inside Forks Outfitters, which houses a Thriftway grocery, Ace Hardware, and apparel and outdoor-equipment stores. "It would've been nice if they could have shot some of it here.
"But," Marshall added with a smile, "we get all the tourists, anyway."
In Forks, "Twilight" is as pervasive as morning mist. During the movie's opening weekend, the espresso stand featured a "Twilight Special: Chocolate Raspberry Latte." Other businesses around town offer "Twilight Delights" (candy); the "Bella Burger" (named after the novel's heroine); "Bellalasagna"; and "Bella Berry Pie." At Forks Outfitters, you can buy "Forks Fang Club" and "Vampire Capital, Forks, Washington" shirts.
From Portland, Forks is about a five- to six-hour drive, depending on how long you stop for lunch. The lodging options range from bed-and-breakfasts to motels, lodges and cabins, many offering "Twilight"-themed rooms (the Pacific Inn Motel and Dew Drop Inn, for example).
For most Forks "Twilighter" tourists, first stop is the Forks Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center. In a concise image of Forks Then and Now, tourists walk past the Timber Museum to instead take pictures in front of a 1953 red Chevy pickup, with a license plate reading "BELLA," the most visible symbol of how the chamber has gotten into the "Twilight" tourism business. The chamber's "Twilight" arsenal includes the truck -- a double for the model Bella drives in the book -- tours, souvenirs and albums of letters sent from all over the world to the book's characters.
On a recent Friday, visitors clustered around the album, amazed that a guy from Ghana sent love letters to Bella, or that someone else offered a scholarship to Rosalie (Edward's vampire "sister").
"We're all laughing, but we came here to see all this stuff," admitted Barb Allshouse, 42, who had traveled from Louisville, Ohio, with her 17-year-old daughter, her sister and a friend, devoted "Twilighters" all.
The group picked up maps for a self-guided tour of "Twilight" hot spots. For a tour, it's a pretty prosaic itinerary, consisting of actual places mentioned in the book (the hospital, the police station, the high school), a local house that has been designated the home of the Swans, the Miller Tree Inn Bed and Breakfast, a stand-in for the home of the Cullens, the vampire clan, and nearby (12 miles away) La Push.
Allshouse's sister, Travie Hlava, 39, was straightforward about the impact that Meyer's books -- "Twilight," and its sequels, "New Moon," "Eclipse" and "Breaking Dawn" -- have had. "They've changed our lives," Hlava said. The books inspired the sisters to write, and take bold steps -- like this journey to Forks.
"The books awakened passion," Allshouse said. "Bella is a very ordinary girl, but so much happens to her. If you believe that magical things can happen in ordinary places, then magical things could happen to me. Not falling in love with a teenage vampire, but ..."
Off to one side of the visitor center, manager Mike Gurling was doing a phone interview with People magazine. By this time, Gurling, an amiable former Olympic National Park ranger, has his rap down. He explained that the movie didn't shoot in Forks because Oregon offered better incentives and tax breaks to the production. But Forks has welcomed visitors from all over the world. The town is thrilled at all the media attention.
Mayor Nedra Reed agrees that "Twilight" has been a much-needed boost. "It is probably the most important asset our community has, as we're trying to deal with the decline in the timber industry and, recently, the decline in the economy." Reed says that income from the hotel/motel tax has been up 15 percent over last year and really spiked during the summer.
In the town's small central shopping area, an enterprising Vancouver resident named Annette Bruno-Root was celebrating both the opening of the movie and the grand opening of her store, Dazzled by Twilight. Teenage girls posed for giggling photos next to a life-size cutout of Robert Pattinson, the smoldering-eyed, awesomely haired Brit who plays Edward in the movie. They pored over shirts that read "Team Edward" and "Team Jacob," and eyeballed pins and magnets saying, "I kissed a werewolf and I liked it," "O.C.D. Obsessive Cullen Disorder" and "Why So Sullen, Edward Cullen?"
Bruno-Root opened the store, she said, because she came to Forks as a fan and wanted more "Twilight"-themed merchandise than she found. On maternity leave from her job as a social worker for the state of Washington, Bruno-Root and her family have been dividing their time between Forks and Vancouver. "This store evolved out of my need as a fan," said Bruno-Root, who was wearing a "Twilight" T-shirt.
"Twilight" fans share similar rituals -- reading the books obsessively, then re-reading them again -- and Bruno-Root is no different.
"I read the first three books in two days," she said. She keeps re-reading because, "when I finish them, I feel very sad, as if my friends are gone." Though Meyer's novels are categorized for young readers, Bruno-Root says anyone can enjoy them. "I love her writing style and the character development. They don't feel dumbed down."
And the love story between the average teen and dazzlingly handsome vampire doesn't hurt, either. "It doesn't matter how old you are," she said, "everyone wants an Edward."